Taking the train in Kazakhstan

Astana Tower by night
Astana Tower by night

Crossing the border by train from Tashkent to Shymkent was much easier than I’d expected! Besides being asked about 15 times to show my passport from the very entrance of the train station to the actual Uzbek-Kazakh border, everything went smoothly.

Registration issues leading to hefty fines from immigration are most couchsurfers and campers’ biggest fear in Uzbekistan. As of June 2018, online self-registration is possible if you manage to jump through all the IT and bureaucracy hoops thrown at you. Very few people seem to know what that self-registering is even a thing. So I decided to take my chances with immigration and to Couchsurf anyway, which proved to be a fantastic way to visit Uzbekistan and one of my best ideas in Uzbekistan. Let’s not discuss the bad ones, there’s too many of them.

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imageI must admit when I got on that train I was a bit worried about my registration slips which only accounted for 6 nights out of 13 spent in Uzbekistan. I had found some old receipts, I was prepared to fake surprise and incomprehension and to pretend I’d lost my “other” registration slips, I had trained myself to cry on command, hell, I was ready to jump out the window and make a run for it but no one asked me to explain why I had so few registration slips. I did, however, have to pull my heavy backpack down from the overhead storage compartment and open it for about 4 seconds.

The whole passport ceremony took about an hour and was fairly painless. Some immigration officers came on board with a portable passport machine, a german Shepherd, checked some luggage and bags here and there, asked a few questions, sometimes in bad English but most of the time in Russian and we were good to go. No need to get our bags, get off the train, go through immigration twice etc as I had to do at the border between Mongolia and China.

Astana by night
Astana by night

Here’s in my opinion, the pros and cons of taking the overnight train from Tashkent to Almaty.

  • Electricity plugs between the seats
  • Restaurant wagon with decent food – menu in Russian only
  • Clean bathroom with TP – whaaaaat?
  • Cold and hot water available as well as plastic cups
  • Currency exchange broker on board a couple of times with acceptable exchange rate
  • Free cloud network with movies, music, information in English
  • Comfortable velvety seats and blankets
  • And a lovely sunset view over the Kazakh mountains as bonus

  • No wifi
  • Expensive sleepers (73 US) as opposed to 35 USD for a regular seat
  • 17 hours trying to find the best sitting position

Tips: bring a plastic bag that you’ll use as garbage bag. Bring some tea bags as hot water is free. The restaurant is a wee bit pricy, for Central Asia that is, so snack up! Download the Google Translate App beforehand, you might need it.


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